The 40 Hour Work Week Disrupts the Natural Work Flow

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“I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa, but not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.” These are the words of Lise-Lotte Pettersson, an assistant nurse and participant in a controlled trial of shorter work hours in Sweden. The results will be published in 2016, but so far results indicate nurses are less fatigued and more efficient (Crouch, 2015).

A 2014 Gallup survey of 1,200 American adults discovered that the average full time US employee works 47 hours per week and 18% work 60 hours or more (Green, 2015).

The workplace is a community I’m passionate about. Work demands are conditions part of my mission. Occupational justice is vague to most, yet sticks to my bones like muscles. Too many people understand occupation to mean career or job instead of a way of spending time.

According to occupational science, the word occupation more broadly represents any activity that is personally meaningful. Occupation has taken on so many roles.

When working we contribute to society. One-to-one or with a broader audience, in one way or another, our job exists to make someone else’s life run a little bit smoother.

It’s a beautiful thing.

And, for me, the idea of a 40-hour work week is absurd. It’s a given that there’s always more work to do when I get home or on the weekends. I feel squeezed for time, rushed, unable to process the moments of my day as completely as I’d like to.

Swedish Occupational scientists, Dennis Persson and Lena-Karin Erlandsson shed some fascinating insight into how Western society got here.

To start, they present thoughts of Skolimowski, a Polish professor of eco-philosophy. He explains that Aristolte separated what Plato had previously treated as unified: the issues of the good, the truthful, and the beautiful.

The truthful gave rise to science and reductionism. We lost our sense of the “wholeness of the universe, of the personal, and of the priceless values of goodness, beauty and spirituality” (Persson & Erlandson,2002, p.95). Intellectual understanding or knowledge for the sake of knowledge was no longer enough.

It appears that society strives to understand in order to control. The world is as if it were a machine and it became “natural” to try to control and rule it. One example is the division of our day. This pattern was founded in mechanistic thinking. Time, too, became something to be controlled. Our 24 hour day was neatly divided into:

  • 8 hours of sleep
  • 8 hours of work
  • 8 hours of free time

This was introduced at the beginning of industrialization and after the First World War in U.S. and Europe. Is it beginning to change?

In Forbes magazine’s recently published article entitled “Why the 40-Hour Workweek Is Dying,” the authors claim that the 40 hour work week disrupts the natural work flow and can decrease individual and company-wide productivity via burnout, decreased creativity, and ignoring individual differences in energy levels. Here’s some ways companies (particularly Startups) are shaking up the traditional work week: Some companies are trying 10 hour days 4x/week or 12 hour days 3x/week. Some have incorporated flex time, where employees schedule their own hours and more and more companies are allowing employees to work from home. Employers are also allowing employees to vote and decide their own hours on a rotating basis.

I think we still have a long way to go. But from an occupational perspective, I’m happy to see the discourse change. Humans-body, mind, and spirit-are this world’s greatest asset. We are not machines and we each function at our highest potential with different proportions of work, rest, leisure, and play. In this world of opportunity I urge all of us to find meaningful occupations that suit our needs and to advocate for why this so very important-so very human.

Sources:
Crouch, D. (2015, September 17). Efficiency up, turnover down: Sweden experiments with six-hour working day. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/17/efficiency-up-turnover-down-sweden-experiments-with-six-hour-working-day

DeMers, J. (2015, May 15). Why The 40-Hour Workweek Is Dying. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2015/05/15/why-the-40-hour-workweek-is-dying/

Green, H. (2015, June 30). It’s Time for the 30-hour Week. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harlan-green/its-time-for-the-30-hour_b_7696674.html

Persson, D. & Erlandson, L-K. (2002) Time to Reevaluate the Machine Society: Post-industrial Ethics from an Occupational Perspective. Journal of Occupational Science, 9, (2): 93-99.

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